Waterloo -- symbol of grandeur and collapse, honor and carnage. Without a doubt, this mythical battle has been one of the most debated and over-analyzed military confrontations in history, from Victor Hugo's famous digression right in the middle of Les Misérables and hundreds of historians and biographers to board war games. Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Battle brings the ultimate contest of the French revolution to the PC and the result is a commendable achievement.
Make no mistake -- the game is designed for the hardcore war gamer above all. Players with no qualms about spending days setting up literally thousands of cardboard counters on tables for games that last months will enjoy the depth and detail tremendously. Others may be overwhelmed and should begin with the shortest of the scenarios, re-creating specific aspects of the battle before moving on to the main course. Fortunately, there are plenty of scenarios (including six tutorials) to help the novice war gamer get acclimatized.
The challenges of 19th century warfare, including cavalry, infantry and artillery units, various leaders and ten different formations, are successfully represented in Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Battle. Gameplay is tactical in nature and, while the task of running a battle involving almost 200,000 soldiers in real time is enough to make most gamers break out in a cold sweat, the pace of the game is surprisingly manageable. Savvy commanders will rely on their army's generals and other leaders. Give an order to a corps commander and he'll relay it to all of his troops without fail.
Micro-management should be reserved for the most crucial of engagements. The only reservations about an otherwise flawless battle engine include an occasional overrated leader and the inability to assess damage caused to enemy units by artillery bombardment, which may very well be an intended feature. As an example of the former, it can be reasonably argued that Maréchal Ney, classified as "superb" by the game's designers, was no longer very effective by 1815.
A high level of replay value is offered with historical and fictional scenarios that can be run from either side and cooperative multiplayer options, which allow teams to split command of an army. The latter can result in some chaos, though, as any player can take command of any unit on his side without following a chain of command. A no-frills scenario builder is also included but adds little to the overall experience.
On the downside, the game is a memory hog with blocky and slow animation even on a high-end machine. Units look good when viewed up close (the Orders of Battle are especially noteworthy) but their representations become imprecise and pixellated in tactical view. Assessing height on the battlefield is almost impossible without resorting to an ugly grid, reminiscent of early-90s golf games. Some crucial interface buttons (including the grid toggle) are very small and awkwardly placed, while others that are rarely used take up prime screen real estate. Finally, while the little bit of music presented is quite good, there isn't nearly enough and what's there is constrained to the menus and intros.
The game's documentation is excellent. The tutorial scenarios guide you through the intricacies of the unusual interface in short order, while the historical databases on the CD, which features a factual biography of the Emperor and a complete breakdown of the battle itself, is a welcome surprise. Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Battle reflects the result of considerable historical research, with accurate depictions of units, leaders, banners, uniforms and the actual battlefield. The manual is complete and effective.
The game is a must have for history buffs and a good choice for other gamers who have the time, patience and will required to master the intriguing gameplay.
Graphics: Given the subject matter, the detail is most satisfactory but picking out units can, at times, be confusing.
Sound: Lack of in-game music is regrettable but the voices and sound effects are better than average.
Enjoyment: Expect sizable time investments to plumb the depths of this thoroughly engrossing depiction of Napoleon Bonaparte's infamous battle. The level of detail is superb with accurate historical treatment in nearly every area (battles, uniforms, units, leaders and so forth).
Replay Value: The scenario builder is weak but the game comes with enough material to keep armchair generals busy for a long time.
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